The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

text by Michael Wainwright    photos by Joan Marcus

Ever been on sensory overload? That’s when your body’s senses break down, leaving you unable to properly response to the environment. We’ve all been there. Lack of sleep, having had too much to drink the night before or rehashing an unpleasant event over and over again can cause the shutdown. Your nerve endings are raw. Every sight and sound is magnified and your head is spinning, leaving you paralyzed, unable to place one foot in front of the other.

For most of us, that disconnect is a temporary condition. But for some, it’s a permanent affliction known as autistic spectrum disorder. Imagine that feeling 24/7 and you are ready to enter the world of Christopher Boone, the protagonist in the five-time Tony Award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Adapted by writer Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel, the plot follows a mentally-challenged boy’s brave journey of discovery and self-realization. Stephens says, “There is no show like this…it’s a theatrical event. It’s a story of great simplicity, but on a tremendous scale.” Critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times raves, “ This is one of the most fully immersive works ever to wallop Broadway.”

So be prepared to have all your emotional and sensory circuitry go haywire. Directed by Marianne Elliot ( a Tony Award-winner for War Horse), the production will reset the way you see hear and feel. Amazingly, this play forces you to adopt the frame of reference of someone with whom you have absolutely nothing in common – a 15-year-old genius, a mathematical wizard for whom walking down the street or making simple small talk is impossible. Lacking in social skills and dread of being touched, any violation of Christopher’s rigid world can send him into a physical tailspin.

Yet, on the flip side, Christopher has the uncanny knack of seeing everything. We soon see and feel both the advantages and drawbacks of his heightened awareness enhanced by amazing displays of technology; electronic beeps and jarring sounds that punctuate the musical score, flashy video and lighting projections that mirror his internal ramblings and fast-paced choreography that mimic his racing mind. As the plot unfolds, the lined graph paper walls of the set serve as a place where Christopher can calculate and note his innermost thoughts.

Reworking a book written as a first-person narrative into a stage production is cleverly handled by Stephens. A new character is added – a special education teacher – who serves as the intermediary between Christopher and the audience. At first she reads aloud his diary and then convinces Christopher to turn his story into a play. This allows the principle character to interact directly with the other performers.

Following the book’s storyline, Christopher initially is seen as a prime suspect in killing his neighbor’s dog, so he sets out to investigate and meticulously document his findings to identify the real culprit. Along the way, he uncovers shocking family secrets which set the teen on a path that will change his life forever.

Moving at warp speed, the production captures Christopher’s racing mind. To keep up the momentum, the requirements placed on the cast members are physically and emotionally demanding. Fortunately, the touring cast is extremely talented and up to the challenge.

Gene Gillette, who portrays Christopher’s father ( Ed Boone), is a veteran actor of both stage (War Horse National Tour and Macbeth with Francis Dormand among others) and TV (The Good Wife, Law & Order: SVU, Elementary and Person of Interest) . “Rehearsal for The Curious Incident,” Gillette shares, “was unlike any experience I’ve ever had before. >>

It was like bootcamp…intense. The mornings were spent exercising as though we were in a gym preparing for an athletic event…push-ups, sit-ups…preparing us for the physical scenes. Then, after lunch, we worked on the emotional scenes.”

When asked more about the play, Gillette adds, “ It’s an amazing show. It all takes place inside of Christopher’s head. I think that the play does a really good job of showing that, both with the technical aspects and then with all of the movement that’s choreographed by Frantic Assembly. I think it even opens up new doors that you don’t get in the book, doors into Christopher’s mind and how it works. They’ve done a really beautiful job with it.”

Watching Christopher’s triumph in the face of adversity, we realize there is a valuable lesson to be learned. As Marianne Eliott so eloquently shares, “ It [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time] is about all of us, encountering things that we find overwhelming and confusing…feeling that fear, but driving through it anyway.”

Spoiler Alert: Be sure to linger after the final curtain call. There’s more of Christopher to come.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

June 20 – 25

ASU Gammage